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DuPont plans big Kevlar production expansion

DuPont will invest $500 million to increase production of Kevlar, best known for its use in military body armor, the company said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

DuPont will invest $500 million to increase production of Kevlar, best known for its use in military body armor, the company said Wednesday.

The expansion, when complete in 2010, will increase capacity by more than 25 percent and represents the largest Kevlar expansion since the aramid fiber was introduced in 1965, the company said.

"This is a significant investment for DuPont and underscores our commitment to sustainability and providing products that improve the safety and protection of people and critical processes around the world," said Mark Vergnano, group vice president for DuPont's safety and protection unit.

DuPont vice president Thomas Powell said in addition to its protective uses, "global megatrends" are driving demand for Kevlar, which is used to make energy-efficient materials and also for infrastructure projects in developing economies.

"It's the biggest investment we've ever made in the Kevlar business," said Powell, also general manager for DuPont Advanced Fiber Systems.

While the increased demand for Kevlar includes military applications, where it is used in both body and vehicle armor, Powell said the federal government made no specific requests for increased production.

"We are constantly in discussion about what they need, ... but they don't make specific requests around capacity," he said.

Less than half of the company's Kevlar production goes into personal protection, according to DuPont spokeswoman Stephanie Jacobson.

Five times stronger than steel on a weight basis, Kevlar can be used to build lighter airplanes and cars. Infrastructure applications range from protecting fiber-optic cables to strengthening aging bridges by wrapping them in Kevlar, Powell said.

Kevlar was originally developed for use in tires, but it has since become synonymous with ballistic and stab-resistant body armor. Kevlar has been incorporated into vehicle armor, aircraft, firefighting gear, and blast and storm-resistant building materials.

"When people think about Kevlar, obviously what gets the attention is ballistic protection," Powell said.

But he said high energy prices have increased the demand for lightweight strength fibers in the aerospace, oil and gas, and automotive industries.

From 2000 to 2006, DuPont completed four Kevlar fiber expansion projects in Richmond and in Maydown, Northern Ireland, incorporating a new fiber technology that it developed and patented.

DuPont, based in Wilmington, Del., said the new, multiphase expansion will begin later this year with increased polymer production at its Richmond, Va., plant, followed by expansion of spinning or fiber-making capacity at a site still to be determined.

In August 2006, DuPont said it expected to invest more than $100 million in a three-phase capacity expansion that would raise its fiber and paper capability of Nomex, another aramid fiber known for its flame resistance, by about 10 percent. The first phase of the Nomex expansion is scheduled to go online later this year.

DuPont shares rose 1.18 percent to $49.88 Wednesday.